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Monday, 02 April 2012 12:43

Desktop Linux: a dose of FUD from The Economist

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These days whenever I see an article bemoaning the fact that GNU/Linux has not made it to the desktop in sufficiently large numbers to make the writer in question stand up and applaud, I tend to laugh.

These articles go through the same arguments which have been advanced ad infinitum, though some tend to go the extra mile to be illogical. The Economist, a magazine put out by a right-wing cabal, is no different.

When you read something in this magazine, you won't see a byline. It could be because the writers are ashamed of what they have to write in order to get published.

Or it could be because they believe, like Holy Writ, that their arguments cannot be countered. As I've said before, if this is the reason why this practice is adopted, it smacks of arrogance.

The article which I am referring to is titled: "Difference engine: free is too expensive." The blog in which the entry is made is titled Babbage. That, of course, gives it respectability – Charles Babbage is a man whom every computer science student knows about. But the entry itself is mostly specious.

The author first tries to get the Linux crowd on-side – he/she/it has used Linux, and the software (oh, how condescending can you be?) has several good points. Why it can even run on an old Pentium!

But then we get to the meat of the confused reasoning – the large number of distributions and the fact that one distribution may have a different file layout to another is a big minus, and unless Linux conforms to the same pattern that Mac OSX and Windows do, it will not succeed in business. We all need to march to the same tune; monoculture will save the earth.


Midway through the article, there is a plaint about updating. The reasoning offered is that people are under the impression that the latest software is always the greatest.

This may be true for individuals. But any business that follows this dictum and keeps updating its software every time there is a release, is run by fools. Cardinal fools. It is a recipe for going bankrupt.

In reality, it takes years for a business to decide to upgrade. The first release candidate for Windows 7 was out early in 2009; it is only now that companies are hesitantly moving to the platform. It takes months and months of testing to make the move. And it is rarely done in-house.

Moving to a new version of Windows not only involves an installation from scratch, it also involves buying new hardware. With GNU/Linux the latter burden is not imposed on a business.

If you use a distribution like Debian it takes two small statements on the command-line to upgrade from version to version – I know, I've done it even on a 56K connection (and for the record it took 44 hours – the Internet connection dropped once, but when it was back up, things went on as though nothing had happened.)

And while talking about the command line, the author seems unaware that Windows is now dabbling in this hocus-pocus too. Apparently, power users want a shell!

There is a blithe statement in the article that the cost of licensing is much less than the cost of administration. This makes it obvious that the author has never done any serious sysadmin work in his/her/its life.

Right-wing publications like The Economist are brilliant when it comes to making ludicrous arguments in staid language. The article makes the snide remark that Linux now has 1% of the desktop compared to 2.5% a decade ago. (Fox News uses this tack too – 45% agree with X and 55% with Y. They never tell you the numbers.) This disregards the fact that the 1% now is a much bigger figure than 2.5% was a decade ago. But The Economist never lets little inaccuracies like that get in the way of a story. They would be out of business by now if they had.

The conclusion is risible. "In the circumstances, systems administrators do the rational thing: they install Windows machines on every desk, pay the Microsoft tax, and sleep easy at night, knowing there are plenty of maintenance people to keep their Windows networks running smoothly." Yeah, sure. Tell that to any of this bunch.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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